Posted by Wizard
Nov 09, 2009

Curently Playing: Yes

For three months - but perhaps no more than that - the Gilded Era opulence of the Lance Burton Theater is playing host to Vintage Vegas, a crazy-quilt revue starring local tribute duo Zowie Bowie. So don't dilly-dally or you'll miss the most self-indulgent extravaganza since Cirque du Soleil unleashed its Criss Angel vanity project, Believe, on an eagerly skeptical Strip.

With a 16-member band, two backup singers and five dancers (including the elastic Jay Boogie), Zowie Bowie has spared little expense. It's even prevailed upon gossip-monger Robin Leach to tape a preface that invites the audience back to the days of "champagne wishes and caviar dreams." That's so 1987, but never mind. The "vintage" of Las Vegas that the show attempts to unbottle proves to be a moving target.

Zowie Bowie consists of male lead singer Chris Phillips, he of the vertically moussed hair, rampant bling and rigid grin, plus longtime fiancée Marley Taylor. She has been described as "buxom and blustery … so stacked she makes Jayne Mansfield look positively dowdy." Well maybe not quite, but Taylor is impressively cantilevered and spends much of the show offstage, presumably shimmying into the next in a series of skintight gowns.

Opening with "Get Me to the Church on Time" from My Fair Lady, Zowie Bowie seem to have passed straight through reality and into the realm of Saturday Night Live parody, alongside the Sweeny Sisters and lounge lizard Wally Winter. While Phillips is a poor man's Jack Jones, Taylor's big, brassy yawps supply the duo's power.

Roaming the stage with drink in hand, Phillips attempts Henry Mancini's "Meglio Stasera," over-inflecting the tune to compensate for his vocal limitations. That's nothing compared to the cocktail-bar stylings he inflicts on George Harrison's "Something." It's something all right: arguably the worst Beatles cover ever.

Monty Norman's "James Bond Theme" reintroduces Taylor for a rendition of the title track from the only Vegas-set 007 film, Diamonds are Forever. She brings enough of herself to the tune, while applying apt touches of Shirley Bassey's original interpretation here and there. The old Diana Ross standard, "Touch Me in the Morning," benefits from a searing lead-trumpet solo. (The arrangements are idiomatic, if heavy on brass and percussion.)

Perhaps getting ideas above their station, Zowie Bowie style themselves "the new Steve & Eydie." They also rely on bickering-couple patter that outstays its welcome. Taylor gets off one of the evening's few zingers when she addresses her partner as "Beavis" - the resemblance is unmistakable.

"I came here with a mission and an agenda and that was to keep the damn spirit of Vegas alive," Philips proclaims, sounding like a tuxedo-clad version of Glenn Beck. One can't accuse him of thinking small. Later the tirelessly self-enamored and fatuous vocalist calls this "the most exciting time in Vegas' history." Thirteen percent unemployment? Multiple casino bankruptcies? A nation-leading rate of foreclosure? Plummeting retail sales? If that's excitement, we might enjoy a little boredom, thank you.

Not content to grasp at the Lawrence-Gormé mantle, Phillips also reaches for that of Sinatra. On opening night, two cast members from the Plaza's The Rat Pack is Back joined Vintage Vegas for an underwhelming "Luck Be a Lady Tonight." While "Dean" had appropriately drowsy phrasing, the rhythm sense of "Frank" was so flaccid you could almost hear the real Francis Albert Sinatra yelling profanities from the Great Beyond.

Careening randomly from era to era, Phillips segues into a suite of TV theme songs, including those of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and, yes, The Love Boat. Backup singer Michelle Johnson is pressed into service for "Movin' on up" from The Jeffersons and promptly rocks the house.

In another boost to the show's flagging energy level, Taylor returns for duet versions of "The Lady is a Tramp" and "Hello Dolly." Improbably, a Taylor solo version The Doors' "Light My Fire" really cooks … at least it does until Taylor is upstaged by backup dancers wearing chandeliers atop their noggins.

There's quite a "freak show" quotient to Vintage Vegas, depending on what night you see it. On this occasion, local confessor to the stars Alicia Jacobs was called onstage so that Taylor could serenade one of Jacobs' much-paraded, long-suffering dogs. Motley Crüe's Vince Neil was also in the house and was surprised the crowd with a stylish rendition of "Fly Me to the Moon." Despite a small, throaty voice, Neil displayed an innate, loving grasp of Sinatra-like style, never lapsing into mimicry. Other cover artists could learn a great deal from him.

After a detour into Tom Jones territory for "Delilah," Phillips dispensed some more flag-waving rhetoric, followed by a distended version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Whoever had the boneheaded and tasteless notion of interpolating "Dixie" into the arrangement needs to take some remedial American history classes.

A Phillips-Taylor "I've Got the World on a String" (the Rat Pack strikes again) and a reprise of "Get Me to the Church on Time" closed out the show about as randomly as it began. Vintage Vegas is so bad it's good; yet it's very affordably priced and sufficiently off the wall that it just might take root as a camp curiosity. You get the feeling Zowie Bowie would probably be A-OK with that.

Vintage Vegas with Zowie Bowie
Sun., 7:30 p.m.
Lance Burton Theatre
Monte Carlo Resort & Casino